Biggest storm in years hitting Valley - East Valley Tribune: News

Biggest storm in years hitting Valley

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Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010 8:33 am | Updated: 3:39 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Valley residents hunkered down Thursday evening to wait out one of the biggest storms in years that brought gusts exceeding 60 mph, flash flooding, and was expected to dump 3 to 5 inches of rain.  |  DPS discourages all travel to N. Ariz.

Photos Get the latest traffic conditions  |  Where to find free sandbags

Tornado watch  |  SRP releases reservoir water  |  Evacuations in California

Valley residents hunkered down Thursday evening to wait out one of the biggest storms in years that brought gusts exceeding 60 mph, flash flooding, and was expected to dump 3 to 5 inches of rain.

Slideshow

Check traffic conditions

Where to find free sandbags

DPS discourages all travel to N. Ariz.

More evacuations ordered as storm hits California

Shortly after 6 p.m., Gov. Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency, activated the state’s emergency operations center and cautioned residents to avoid travel and stay close to a radio or TV for new developments.

The declaration allots $200,000 in emergency funds that will pay for emergency responses and recovery efforts. It also allows officials to mobilize the Arizona National Guard to assist in life-saving efforts.

“These storms could isolate people in their homes,” the governor’s news release said.

Earlier Thursday, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors declared an emergency, giving the county’s Department of Emergency Management more authority to take measures to safeguard public safety.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Apache Junction and parts of Pinal County as well as nearly every other city in the Valley.

What the warning means is that flooding is occurring or imminent and that these cities are under risk, said meteorologist Doug Green. The warning was in effect until 10 p.m.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Apache Junction and parts of Pinal County as well as nearly every other city in the Valley.

What the warning means is that flooding is occurring or imminent and that these cities are under risk, said meteorologist Doug Green.

The warning was in effect until 10 p.m.

Late Thursday night, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Gilbert, Mesa and Queen Creek. A warning means a tornado was spotted on radar.

The weather service reported that several witnesses saw a tornado touch down in the Desert Ridge area near Loop 101 and Hayden Road.

“They reported a touchdown, but we don’t have any reports of damage or anything yet,” said Keith Kincaid, a meteorologist.

The weather service also reported winds as high as 74 mph near Ironwood and Brown roads in Apache Junction, trees blocking roads and downed power lines caused by rushing water in the Salt River.

On Thursday night, emergency crews were called out to the Russo and Steele auto auction in north Scottsdale, where two auto tents collapsed due to heavy winds, injuring one person, according to Tiffani Nichols, spokeswoman for the Scottsdale Fire Department.

The auto auction is along the south side of Loop 101 north of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard and features 650 classic cars worth millions of dollars, an auction spokesman said. The auction was scheduled to run until about 11 p.m., but people were being asked to leave about 6 p.m., according to the spokesman.

The injured person did not suffer any life-threatening injuries, but the Department of Public Safety closed Loop 101 between Hayden and Scottsdale roads to clear debris in the road near the auction.

“We’re trying to make a bad situation a peaceful exit,” said the spokesman, who didn’t want to be named. “We’re trying to do the right thing. We’re having some issues here and hoping tomorrow will be a better day.”

Files and titles also were being moved so they could be secured, the spokesman said.

The larger Barrett-Jackson auto auction also closed its outside tents and only operated late Thursday out of the main tent at West World near Loop 101 and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, according to information from the Scottsdale Fire Department.

Robert Lee Bailey, an Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman, said in a statement that police were evacuating people from the auction.

At press time, about 9,100 residents were without power in the Valley, utility companies reported.

SRP customers were getting hit by “waves” of power outages from the storm, a spokesman said.

“Our outages right now are about 3,900 customers without power, and that’s down from about 15,000 at peak,” spokesman Jeff Lane said.

As of 8 p.m., about 5,200 APS customers were without power. About 1,700 customers in Tempe were without power about two hours earlier, according to Damon Gross, an APS spokesman.

The situation was fluid, Gross said.

“We’re getting some customers back, and some are being knocked off,” Gross said. “Hopefully, we can get through this without too much damage to the system. A winter storm that brings these kinds of winds is unique.”

Municipal officials around the East Valley remained on alert, prepared to help residents, and distributed free sandbags; airlines canceled or delayed flights at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; and utility officials were bracing for potential widespread outages.

Maricopa County was under a tornado watch Thursday afternoon.

Up north, Flagstaff residents were digging out from under 3 feet of snow Thursday and were expecting another 2 feet.

Interstate 17 from Camp Verde to Flagstaff and state Route 89A from Flagstaff to Sedona were closed, leaving motorists without a direct route between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

The National Weather Service in Phoenix predicted the worst of the storm to hit about 10 p.m.

“It looks like the front’s going to move through later on this evening, probably just before 11 o’clock or midnight,” meteorologist Mike Paddock said Thursday.

He said the worst of the rain would likely start around 10 p.m.

Throughout Wednesday and Thursday, cities and towns were working to get word out to residents about free sandbags being distributed from local fire stations and other municipal buildings.

As of late afternoon, Queen Creek spokeswoman Marnie Schubert said washes there weren’t flooding, but as many as 10 roads had standing water.

Riggs Road crossing Sonoqui Wash had been closed since Wednesday, as well as another residential street south of Ocotillo Road called Via Del Jardin.

She said more roads could be closed as the storm worsened, and residents could get quick updates by going to the town’s Twitter and Facebook accounts at www.twitter.com/TOQC_official and www.facebook.com/queencreek.

In Gilbert, Recker Road between Elliot and Warner roads was closed, and Mesa police closed the northbound lanes of Signal Butte at Elliot Road.

Both directions of Broadway Road between Hawes and Sossaman roads were also closed.

In Chandler, Paul Nies, battalion chief with the Chandler Fire Department, said eight people were trained to extract motorists and pedestrians from flooded washes, canals or other areas in the region.

He said Chandler is mostly flat, and there aren’t many parts of the city with drainage areas.

“It’s really hard for me to predict … where we might think of some issues,” he said. “They seem so innocuous that … you wouldn’t have walked by and said, ‘Wow, if it rains that’s going to be really dangerous.’”

SRP released excess water Thursday from its two reservoirs on the Verde River to create additional storage capacity, according to a news release issued by the utility.

That means the normally dry Salt River will be flowing through the Valley by Friday, and the river crossing at McKellips Road will likely be closed by Friday or Saturday — and likely throughout the spring.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, US Airways canceled all flights until at least 6 p.m. from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Southwest Airlines said it would not resume flights until Friday morning.

In addition, United Airlines canceled 10 flights due to wind and low visibility.

Deborah Ostreicher, the airport’s deputy aviation director, held open the possibility that the Federal Aviation Administration might shut down inbound and outbound flights completely if conditions worsened.

“It might be for 20 minutes, it might be for an hour,” she said.

At approximately 3:45 p.m. Thursday, an FAA groundstop went into effect and was expected to last until 7:45 p.m. according to Claire Stern, spokeswoman for the Phoenix Aviation Department. This primarily impacted flights landing at Sky Harbor. Departures were still occurring on a case-by-case basis.

Some flights were diverted to other airports in the Southwest, but a total was not available Thursday night. The total number of flights canceled as a result of the storm was about 120 at that time.

On Thursday night, Brian Sexton, spokesman for Phoenix-Mesa Gateway, said flights in and out of Gateway were running 20 minutes late but there were no plans to cancel or divert any flights

Tribune writer Amanda Keim and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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